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For All Nails #203:  All the World's a Stage

Somewhere in Hazard County
Maine, NC, CNA
22 January 1975

"Vincent Mercator [1], I arrest you in the name of the
King and of all humanity."

The man threw back his head and laughed.  Well, he
didn't throw back his head, having due respect for the
tip of Clarissa's cavalry sabre at his neck.  But the
intention was clear.

"You find this amusing, Mercator?"

"My dear young lady, I am merely celebrating the ultimate
triumph of my art.  To deceive a trained observer (from
the CBI, yes?) at close quarters is a much sterner test
than deceiving an entire nation over the vitavision."

"_What in hell_ are you talking about?"  She had no time
for this -- the General's men would find her soon.  And
_how_ had they found her out?


"I am an _actor_, Constable.  My name is Julian Singh.  It
has been my excusive task for some ten years now to impersonate
my late employer, Secretary Mercator."

"I don't believe you.  Wait a minute, what do you mean _late_
employer?"

"Ah, Miss Detective, I see that in the confusion you have yet to
read the morning newspaper -- there is one on that table.
Shall I fetch it for you?  No tricks, I assure you, I am quite
at your mercy for the time being."

Clarissa kept the sword tip in place as the man slowly walked
to the table and transferred the paper to her left hand.  With 
a prod, he returned to the wall.

"Turn around, hands on the wall, feet back, spread them.  One move,
and you can guess what I'm cutting off first."

"My dear, my interest in theatrics does not extend to real weapons.
The story you want is on the front page."

"BODY ON MEXICAN BEACH MAY BE MERCATOR", Clarissa read.  Someplace
called Angel Island in California.  Partially eaten by sea animals,
teeth removed, fingerprints beyond recovery...

"It could be anybody."

"I wish it were just anybody, Constable, but it isn't.  I expect
the submersible crew are negotiating a surrender to the NUSM as we
speak.  It seems they grew tired of protecting the most wanted man
in the world."

"That's a nice story, Mercator, or whoever you are--"

"Please, Constable, _think_.  If I am Vincent Mercator, _how did I
get here_?  You surely know, though the general public does not,
that Mercator boarded a submersible on the Pacific coast of New
Granada on the night of 3 January."

"So?"

"The _Pacific_ coast, young lady.  Unless you're proposing that
the submersible steamed through the Kincaid Canal under the noses
of the newly managed Mexican Navy, the only way to get _here_ is 
around the Horn.  There simply _hasn't been time_.  Do you know how 
fast a submersible transport travels?"

In fact, Clarissa thought, she didn't.  This story could be yet
another fabrication.  And yet the man before her _didn't_ strike her 
as the murderer of tens of thousands.  And he moved like an amateur, 
not like a career soldier.  Could he possibly be telling the truth?  

It had been clear that the General's new visitor was important.  Only
a small circle of intimates were allowed to see his face, not including
Clarissa's alter ego, the accountant and occasional singer "Abby Bartlet".  
When she had finally contrived to get a look at the stranger--

"Well, Constable?"

"Well what?"

"The life and freedom of an unemployed actor are of much less interest
to you than those of Vincent Mercator, I admit.  But still I propose
to bargain for them--"

"I should run you through right now."

"Perhaps, Constable, perhaps.  But I think you have more need for my 
help than you are willing to admit.  As I see it, you are _still_ in
an isolated compound, surrounded by enemies who are alerted to your
true identity.  _Somewhere_ there must be hundreds of militia waiting to 
pounce upon us, but the big question is whether you've yet given them
the signal to move in."

"I have.  They'll be here in two hours."

"Ah, Detective, a woman in your position should be more skilled as
a liar.  So you haven't signaled them yet, and my associates have by
now surely cut off the telephones.  But _I_ know where there's a radio
transmitter--"

Useful if true, Clarissa thought.  He had the tactical situation figured
perfectly.  Somehow -- she still didn't know how -- in setting up a CBI
takedown of this compound she had finally blown her cover.  The General
himself had confronted her a few minutes before in the music room, only 
to be temporarily dispatched by a kick in the head and her throwing knife
is his leg.  She'd only had time to grab one of the many antique weapons
on the wall before dashing off to find Mercator, if that was who he was,
here.  "Abby" had been given the run of most of the compound, but she'd
never seen this supposed radio.

"A radio.  I'm interested.  What do you want?"

"Your word as a lady that you'll let me escape once you've made your
signal.  For my part I'll help you however I can and not aid in your
recapture in any way.  I offer my _parole_, in the best Britannic
tradition."

There were already audible noises from behind them.  She didn't have
a lot of choice.  "All right, you have my word.  I'll have plenty of 
time to spit you like a pig at the first sign of a double-cross.  Which
way?"

She followed him through the door to the right, wondering if she'd done
the right thing.  But she needed that radio, and she needed a last 
conversation with one particular Yank before the militia arrived...

************

"Adam, you've got to go.  Now.  This compound is going to be
swarming with millies in less than an hour whatever you do."

"I don't understand."

"_I'm one of them, Adam_.  I'm not Abby Bartlet, there never
was an Abby Bartlet, I've betrayed you.  I'm CBI, an infiltrator,
a spy.  The last thing I can do for you is save you, but I'll 
never see you again."

"What?"

"Take Jemmy, take the Conk and _go_.  Take the back roads out of 
here, just drive.  Go south, I'd think, Nova Scotia will be too 
hot for you, go south until you've out of the whole Northern
Confederation.  I won't tell them anything about you.  I'm sorry, 
Adam.  I don't know what to say."

"Why you wicked _bitch_!"

She reached out, almost tenderly, and took his face between her
hands.  He was still too stunned to resist.  God, he was so young!

"I deserve that.  Adam, everything I told you was a lie, but 
_everything I felt for you was true_.  I did love you, I do love you,
I won't ever forget you.  But for God's sake believe me, _you have
to leave_.  _Now_."

She leaned forward, kissed him on the mouth, and dropped her hands.
He stood there a second, then another.  Clarissa watched him shake
his head, turn, and run towards the car barn, calling "Jemmy!" as
he ran.  She looked around for a place to hide until the militia came.

*************

CBI District Office
Falmouth, Maine, NC, CNA
25 January 1975

Detective-Serjeant Clarissa Forster [2] stared at the decoded
report from the Argentine.

"SUBJECT IN ARGENTINE CUSTODY SINCE TWENTYTWO JANUARY NOT REPEAT 
NOT VINCENT MERCATOR PERIOD SUBJECT CONCLUSIVELY IDENTIFIED LASTNAME 
SINGH FIRSTNAME JULIAN PERIOD SUBJECT WELL KNOWN FORMER VITAVISION 
ACTOR AND SECURITY DOUBLE FOR MERCATOR PERIOD HELD ON ARGENTINE
CHARGES COLON CONSPIRACY COMMA ESPIONAGE COMMA FALSE REPORT PERIOD 
NO LEADS HERE RE WHEREABOUTS MERCATOR PERIOD SIGNED CARTER COMMA
CBI OFFICE BUENOS AIRES MESSAGE ENDS"

So it seemed that had been at least three alleged Vincent Mercators
that day: a dead man pulled from the waters of California, a prisoner 
in an Argentine jail, and the man she had released in Maine.  Were 
there even more?  Were _any_ of them the real Mercator, the real
murderer of fifty thousand people?

She had no answers to these questions.  No submersible had surrendered
to the Mexican Navy.  In fact, she had learned, Mercator's alleged
submersible had atomic engines and had been quite capable of reaching
the North Atlantic in the necessary time.  It _was_ possible that she 
had in fact failed to apprehend the greatest lawbreaker in history.

No answers would be found in her final report, a model of obfuscation
even by the standards of the Liddy-era CBI.  But with dozens of arrests 
and the General's organization in ruins, Clarissa could afford to muddy
the waters a bit.  She would be due for a promotion, along with good old 
Roger Gaffney, who had assigned her to the undercover duty and stood
by her for so long.  They'd be happy to give her a transfer as well.
Manitoba, perhaps, or the Vandalias?  Any place far away from the life 
Abby Bartlet had lived for six months.

The report reluctantly conceded that the wounded General had escaped, 
no doubt by prearranged plan.  It made no mention of the two young men 
who had driven south in a Mexican hot-rod, or the charming elderly man 
who had disappeared for parts unknown.  

Notes:

[1] Suggested background: For Mercator (among many posts), FAN #128, 
    #143, #144, #153, #201.  For Clarissa/Abby, FAN #89, #105, #109, 
    #137, #144.

[2] Clarissa Forster's surname was misspelled in the previous FAN
    installments listed above -- my mistake, caused by her chance 
    resemblence to an OTL actress.  The archive has been corrected.

Dave MB